.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.


The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

A Glimpse of the Future -- Or, Has SF Gone Blind? -- SF

The question "Is Science Fiction About to Go Blind?" has arisen more and more often in recent years as the idea of a "technological Singularity" has caught on in SF -- literally a rate of accelerating technological change so swift as to be beyond modern human comprehension. Much less our ability to meaningfully predict its course. For obvious reasons, if you believe that we will experience technological progress that pronounced in the near future, the range of future scenarios you can meaningfully write about is correspondingly diminished. Many science fiction writers who anticipate such an era are constantly trying to expand that spectrum of possibilities, but it often proves challenging.

The article linked above describes some of the problems faced by the SF field. Situations from Charles Stross' novel Accelerando (which is given away free online here) are used to illustrate some of the radical changes that could take place in the event of runaway AI and nanotech breakthroughs. While that article is interesting and well worth reading, I'd like to look at a slightly different problem -- what do we lose if science fiction stops being a lens that surveys the future for the rest of humanity, if it loses the predictive power that its best examples have had over the last two centuries?

Consider Brave New World, 1984, R.U.R. or even modern films such as Gattacca. Or, for that matter, the venerable novels of Verne or Shelley or visionaries of human evolution from Olaf Stapledon to William Gibson and Vernor Vinge. Works such as these often introduce a wider audience to critical issues they had no idea existed.

It's been said that the greatest contribution that Brave New World and 1984 made in describing their respective dystopias was in insuring those futures never came to pass. These two potential worlds -- warped, respectively, by massive, misguided human social engineering and a ruthless, all-controlling totalitarian state -- are now classics in the genre that asks "What would be so bad about doing ___?" R.U.R., of course, coined the word "robot" while simultaneously asking what happens in a world where all human labor has been replaced by the efforts of intelligent machines.

Gattacca looked at how radically American society could change with just a single technology -- exceptionally cheap, fast and accurate genetic scans... which would enable the selection of superior embryos, the screening of the "genetically unfit" and the use of DNA analysis in every forensic crime scene. How quickly the future has come upon us.

And Gibson and Vinge, of course, are known for their respective visions of cyberpunk and technological Singularities -- both of which relate to this site's focus of radical human enhancement and which have, more importantly, influenced many futurists, philosophers and artificial intelligence researchers. There are more obscure works, such as Greg Bear's novel Blood Music, which anticipated nanotechnology well before Engines of Creation (as did the character of Warlock in the comic book The New Mutants, though no one wants to discuss that fact =) ), or Arthur C. Clarke's Fountains of Paradise, which envisioned a geostationary elevator out of Earth's gravity well... not to mention Clarke's non-fiction explanation of how to put geostationary communications satellites in orbit to revolutionize telecommunications. Which they did.

What's my point? Science fiction propogates otherwise obscure ideas about the future among many different audiences -- whether among potential nanotech innovators reading Blood Music, ordinary American voters watching Gattacca, early 20th Century labor organizers taking in R.U.R., early telecom or aerospace engineers reading Clarke or future civil rights activists contemplating 1984. In each case, the critical audience may differ dramatically -- a few scientists or inventors spurred to develop a technology in one case may serve as the idea's "critical mass," in other cases, it may be the widespread comprehension of millions regarding a technology's implications will change the course of history.

When science fiction dramatically restricts its vision to narrowly defined possibilities -- whether space opera stories, post-apocalyptic realities or your choice of post-Singularity/ post-humanity futures -- the field as a whole loses much of its ability to surprise as it treads and retreads the same overtaxed plot of ground. That's not to say that there aren't plenty of great stories left involving nanites or AIs (or space fleets or holocaust aftermaths), but if every "serious SF writer" ends up tramping down the same path, we're going to end up mssing a lot of insights.

In fairness to writers fascinated by Singularities, it's worth nothing that many writers, while their technological timescales may be greatly accelerated, do consider the impact of radically advanced technology on human society. It's just that they anticipate its arrival being just around the corner, and they generally don't expect "society as we know it" to last very long thereafter. Nevertheless, there are some interesting stories packed into those compressed timespans.

Perhaps more intriguing in this vein are writers such as Ken Macleod who anticipate the survival of some kind of human civilization in their stories -- if one that is much shakier and less populous than the one we have today. And which exists in the shadow of incomprehensibly powerful intelligences.

These are interesting scenarios to contemplate. However, lest the field one day devolve to a "cheesy space opera"/"bug-eyed monsters" level of recycled plots, I thought I'd do my part by pointing out just a few of the questions worthy of the SF's serious consideration, particularly at this stage of history. A few of which actually fit in pretty well in Singularity SF, if you think about them.

In what ways can human beings be enhanced, whether in terms of intelligence, health, speed, looks, whatever? To what degree can they be enhanced while still remaining fundamentally "human"? (And what does "human" mean, while we're at it?)

To what degree can various methods of radical human enhancement be synergized? Will biological beings be able to compete at all with non-biological intelligences? Or -- heresy though it is to ask -- will AIs be able to compete at all with biological or cyborged intellects?

Will recursively self-improving intelligences result in the development of unspeakably powerful AIs -- or unspeakably powerful human/post-human minds, if the world's computational resources and scientific innovation are turned towards the refinement of human/biological intelligence instead of artificial thought?

How many different versions (or factions) of "superior beings" might a technologically evolving Earth/solar system/galaxy en up playing host to? How might they get along? How might they learn to get along, if the only alternative were wasteful (if not genocidal) conflict?

How does ordinary humanity maintain its rights and independence in the face of a newly evolved "higher intelligence"? Will humanity (or a large proportion of it) be forced to self-evolve in response in a kind of "arms race" or at least a push to blunt the most dramatic advantages a superior intellect might hold over "masses of ordinary men"?

Will human beings -- either normal modern ones, geniuses, or significantly more advanced near-future near-humans -- be able to offer higher intelligences anything? Here's a fictional comparison of where various intelligences fall on one imaginary scale. Consider how far down even the most advanced of modern humans would sit on this measure of sentience, and then consider this yardstick was specifically designed to make "mere mortals" a measurable quantity next to the celestial minds it conemplates.

What happens if the difference between "transhuman" minds and conventional geniuses becomes as great as between ordinary genius and the severely retarded? Even if there are no issues of wealth, power and recognition, what happens if "the rest of us" become keenly aware of how irrelevent we are to the next step on the evolutionary ladder?

Is there anything ordinary humanity can do to effectively influence human evolution, whether dramatically hastening it, delaying it, redirecting it or "putting the genie back in the bottle"? How can national/international education, government and/or R&D funding shape these unfolding possibilities?

Whew. There's actually a lot more to talk about, most of which has nothing directly to do with human enhancement at all. But I think I've described enough already to illustrate my point. Even without journeying too far from "ye olde Singularity territory" I've found quite a bit of material that is foreboden in a strict, "the AI gods shall rule all flesh," AI/nano, "hard takeoff" Singularity SF. (An exhausting definition just to write. But oddly enough, an accurate one.)

Future Imperative


Blogger SteadyChaos said...

> What happens if the difference between "transhuman" minds and conventional geniuses becomes as great as between ordinary genius and the severely retarded?

This is of course, inevitable and definately one of my concerns as well when I project into the future. Needless to say we will be entering an era in which differences between the individuals of our species will only grow instead of disappear, as so many of us hope these days. Various cultural, economical, relgious and political drives will influence our adoption of various technologies and the degree in which we do so. The greatest contrast will be between those who strive to outperform others and those who choose not to partake in this self-evolutionary race. Hence I see neither a Utopia nor a Dystopia, but a world in which we even more have to come to terms with ourselves so as to accept our place in it.

Better invest in the anti-depressant industry now.

> Even if there are no issues of wealth, power and recognition,

I especially liked the fact you wrote 'even', because sadly enough this are a few of the features of our 'humanism' that will not soon disappear.

>what happens if "the rest of us" become keenly aware of how irrelevent we are to the next step on the evolutionary ladder?

I do very much like this. For the first time in history we will not be able to complain about the fact that we are set aside because of racial or minority discrimination, but we will be faced with the physical inability to ascend to the same level as others. Human pride considered, this will be quite a challenge to come to terms with.

I definately liked very much wjat you wrote and I'll be looking forward to reading more of your points of view.

Best regards,

July 19, 2005 11:52 AM  
Blogger St Louis Cardinals BUFF said...

So many blogs and only 10 numbers to rate them. I'll have to give you a 9 because you have a quailty topic.

Free Access To More Information Abouttravel insurance uk

October 11, 2005 4:48 PM  
Blogger Antonio Hicks said...

I was just browsing various blogs as I was doing a search on the word poster, and I just wanted to say that I really like what you've done with your blog, even though it wasn't particularly related to what I searched for. I appreciate your postings, and your blog is a good example of how a blog should be done. I've only just recently started a Posters website - feel free to visit it when you get a chance if you wish. Much success, antonio.

November 09, 2005 12:40 AM  
Blogger Anny said...

I've got many projects regarding mark hamilton and this page is about my related projects. mark hamilton. Nathan

November 23, 2005 12:39 AM  
Blogger James Baker said...

I was searching blogs,and I found your site.Please,
accept my congratulations for your excellent work!
If you have a moment, please visit my site:
job portal
It pretty much covers job portal related issues.
Have a good day!

June 13, 2006 11:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool blog, interesting information... Keep it UP Cradle of fillth ringtones Directory of las vegas casinos links big breasts online commodity trading Waterproof womens watches Furnishings rugs rug area wave Mens bodybuilding models Nissan parts bookcases Home improvement loan Kia rio speaker Arelis affiliate programs finance free internet marketing Porsche 911 c coupe sony vaio pcg c1mhp hard drive Sportsbook cash business books vw beetle convertible hitch Brianna bank and jenna jameson

April 24, 2007 6:05 AM  
Blogger oakleyses said...

cheap oakley sunglasses, michael kors outlet, michael kors outlet, louis vuitton outlet, louis vuitton, ray ban sunglasses, oakley sunglasses, burberry, longchamp, oakley sunglasses, nike outlet, nike air max, christian louboutin outlet, ugg boots, longchamp outlet, louis vuitton, oakley sunglasses, ugg boots, michael kors outlet, oakley sunglasses, kate spade outlet, tiffany jewelry, prada outlet, nike free, replica watches, tory burch outlet, polo ralph lauren outlet, louis vuitton, chanel handbags, ugg boots, ugg boots, uggs on sale, louboutin, polo ralph lauren outlet, tiffany and co, longchamp outlet, michael kors outlet, nike air max, louis vuitton outlet, michael kors, louboutin outlet, prada handbags, ray ban sunglasses, louboutin shoes, gucci outlet, ray ban sunglasses, jordan shoes, replica watches

October 14, 2015 2:09 AM  
Blogger oakleyses said...

nike free run uk, nike blazer, abercrombie and fitch, lacoste pas cher, hollister, north face, ralph lauren pas cher, nike roshe run, burberry, mulberry, coach factory outlet, nike air max, nike roshe, ralph lauren uk, michael kors, coach outlet, hollister pas cher, new balance pas cher, michael kors, michael kors, michael kors, sac guess, ray ban uk, lululemon, oakley pas cher, tn pas cher, hogan, air jordan pas cher, vans pas cher, true religion jeans, vanessa bruno, louboutin pas cher, air max, hermes, true religion jeans, ray ban pas cher, longchamp pas cher, coach purses, nike free, coach outlet, timberland, north face, nike air max, true religion outlet, sac longchamp, converse pas cher, air force, kate spade handbags, true religion jeans, nike air max

October 14, 2015 2:11 AM  
Blogger oakleyses said...

mcm handbags, vans, nike trainers, nfl jerseys, converse, ray ban, north face outlet, ghd, longchamp, timberland boots, celine handbags, wedding dresses, vans shoes, mac cosmetics, herve leger, babyliss, ferragamo shoes, abercrombie and fitch, beats by dre, north face outlet, nike air max, mont blanc, baseball bats, bottega veneta, reebok shoes, gucci, valentino shoes, jimmy choo shoes, birkin bag, nike air max, ralph lauren, nike huarache, soccer jerseys, louboutin, oakley, converse outlet, instyler, giuseppe zanotti, iphone 6 cases, new balance, lululemon, hollister, p90x workout, hollister, soccer shoes, chi flat iron, insanity workout, nike roshe, hollister, asics running shoes

October 14, 2015 2:14 AM  
Blogger oakleyses said...

replica watches, bottes ugg, coach outlet, toms shoes, swarovski, montre pas cher, hollister, doke gabbana outlet, moncler, moncler, juicy couture outlet, canada goose outlet, wedding dresses, michael kors handbags, moncler, canada goose outlet, pandora charms, pandora jewelry, moncler, pandora jewelry, ugg boots uk, canada goose, supra shoes, thomas sabo, louis vuitton, pandora charms, moncler outlet, ugg,uggs,uggs canada, barbour jackets, doudoune canada goose, ugg,ugg australia,ugg italia, canada goose, lancel, michael kors outlet online, sac louis vuitton pas cher, marc jacobs, barbour, moncler, karen millen, links of london, ugg pas cher, juicy couture outlet, louis vuitton, louis vuitton, swarovski crystal, moncler, michael kors outlet, canada goose uk, moncler, canada goose, louis vuitton, canada goose

October 14, 2015 2:16 AM  
Blogger mmjiaxin said...

north face outlet
ugg outlet
beats by dre
michael kors outlet
nfl jersey wholesale
coach outlet
rolex watches for sale
roshe run men
prada outlet online
lebron shoes
hermes outlet
phone cases
christian louboutin outlet
mont blanc pens
michael kors wallet sale
michael kors uk outlet
michael kors outlet online
air jordan 4
fitflops clearance
ralph lauren outlet

December 13, 2015 8:05 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home